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ticks on dogs

During this time of worldwide viral pandemic, we must remember that life and other diseases still go on. Our pets, the birds and the bees are still flourishing, and as spring has sprung, so has the emergence of ticks and the many diseases they can carry, the most commonly known one being Lyme disease. American Kennel Club’s (AKC®) Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Jerry Klein provides information to help dog owners recognize and prevent Lyme Disease in their pets.

Lyme disease (Lyme borreliosis) is an illness that affects both animals and humans – what is known as a zoonotic disease – and is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The bacterium that causes Lyme disease – a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi – is carried and transmitted primarily by the tiny black-legged tick known as the deer tick. Deer ticks are found in forests or grassy, wooded, marshy areas near rivers, lakes or oceans. People or animals may be bitten by deer ticks during outdoor activities such as hiking or camping, or even while spending time in their back yards.

The disease can be difficult to detect and can cause serious and recurring health problems. Therefore, it is best to take appropriate measures to prevent tick bites and, for dogs, possibly vaccinating against the disease.

Lyme disease is a reportable disease – which means that health care providers and laboratories that diagnose cases of laboratory-confirmed Lyme disease are required to report those cases to their local or state health departments, which in turn report the cases to the CDC.

Lyme Disease in Pets – Symptoms and Treatment

Pets infected with Lyme disease may not show any signs for 2-5 months. After that time, typical symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lameness/painful joints
  • Joint swelling
  • Decreased activity

Recurrent lameness is also possible, and the involved limb may be tender. Inflammation of the joint can last from days to weeks and may move from one limb to another.

Symptomatically, Lyme disease can be difficult to distinguish from another disease carried by ticks, anaplasmosis, because the signs of the diseases are very similar, and they occur in essentially the same areas of the country. Lyme disease is diagnosed through a blood test that shows whether an animal has been exposed to the bacterium.

Antibiotics usually provide effective treatment for Lyme disease. However, it’s important to follow your veterinarian’s advice regarding follow-up care after your pet has been diagnosed with and treated for the disease.

Lyme disease is not communicable from one animal to another, except through tick bites. However, if you have more than one pet and one has been diagnosed with Lyme disease, your veterinarian might recommend testing for any other pets who may have been exposed to ticks at the same time. In fact, because people and their pets often can be found together outdoors as well as indoors, a Lyme disease diagnosis in any family member – whether human or non-human – should serve as a flag that all family members might consult their physicians and veterinarians, who can advise about further evaluation or testing.

Prevention of Lyme Disease

The best way to protect pets from Lyme disease is to take preventive measures to reduce the chance of exposure to ticks.

When possible, avoid areas where ticks might be found such as tall grasses, marshes, and wooded areas, including leaf and wood piles, especially if near a home.

Tick detection and prompt and proper removal is the best way to prevent Lyme disease along with appropriate tick-preventative products.  Check for ticks on both yourself and your animals once indoors.

Speak with your veterinarian about what tick preventative is best for your pet.

Clear shrubbery next to homes and keep lawns well maintained.

There are preventive Lyme disease vaccines available for dogs, but they aren’t necessarily recommended for every dog. Consult your veterinarian to see if the vaccination makes sense for your pets. Your veterinarian’s advice may depend on where you live, your pet’s lifestyle and overall health, and other factors. If your veterinarian does recommend that your dog be vaccinated against Lyme disease, the typical protocol will involve an initial vaccination followed by a booster 2-4 weeks later and annual boosters after that.

Because people and their pets often spend time in the same environments where Lyme and other disease-transmitting ticks are found, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are working together to offer advice to households with both children and pets. People who have been diagnosed with Lyme disease should consult their veterinarian to determine their pet’s risk based on the animal’s lifestyle and possible environmental exposures. Likewise, people whose animals have been diagnosed with Lyme disease may want to consult their physician about their own or their children’s risk if they have concerns that the animals and family members might have been exposed to similar environmental risks.

Thousands of cases of Lyme disease have been reported in humans and animals across the United States and around the world. By knowing about Lyme disease and how to prevent it, you can help keep all members of your family — human and animal — safe.

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